Library fires have happened regularly through the centuries, from the destruction of the
Library of Alexandriato the Duchess Anna Amalia Library. Causes vary from arsonto the Sun's rays setting fire to leaflets through the action of a magnifying lenser in a library in Northam, Devon.
In earlier times mildew was considered a major problem in a lot of libraries and so the emphasis on library design was to increase air flow by, for example, leaving openings under the shelves in adjoining floors. In a fire the flames will be drawn floor to floor by the air flow thus ensuring the relatively easy destruction of a whole library rather than a small section.
Advances in technology have reduced the possibility of a library collection being destroyed by fire. These include water sprinklers,
fire doors, freezers, alarms, smoke detectors, suppression systems, and emergency generators. Older libraries are usually converted by closing up air flow openings and installing fire doors, alarms and sprinklers. Air conditioning reduces the mold problems. These are all essential parts of new library design.
There is no recovery possible if a book is burnt so it is accepted that a better solution is to put out the fire with water and then dry out the books. As mold destroys paper the books are frozen until they can be dried. This process will damage the book but not destroy it and the information will be intact.
In order to minimize the possibility of damage from fire, or other causes, and decrease the time needed for recovery after a destructive event, all libraries need a disaster management and recovery plan. This can be an ongoing process which will include professional development following updates in technology for key staff, training for the remaining staff, checking and maintaining disaster kits, and review of the disaster plan.
In addition, fire-safety investigations are periodically carried out, especially regarding historical libraries. The
Library of Congress, for example, experienced a year-long inspection in 2000. Prior to the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, the Library of Congress and all Capitol Hill buildings were exempt from safety regulations [Fineberg, Gail. "Moving Toward a Safer Library. Compliance Office Issues Fire Safety Report," Library of Congress Information Bulletin 60 no. 3, 65, March 2001] . Balancing historical preservation and contemporary safety standards proves to be a difficult task for "even a 12-year rehabilitation of LC completed in 1997 did not address many fire hazards" [L.A., "Inspection Scorches Fire Safety at LC," "American Libraries," 32 no. 3 17-18, March 2001] . After the Compliance Office inspection, however, the LC announced their wholehearted commitment "to achieving the highest level of safety possible" and "the Architect of the Capitoland Library of Congress will report their progress to the Office of Compliance every three months" [Fineberg, Gail. "Moving Toward a Safer Library. Compliance Office Issues Fire Safety Report," Library of Congress Information Bulletin 60 no. 3, 65, March 2001] .
Information technology is another catalyst for careful fire protection. With so many computers in libraries there "is a decrease in floor space and an increase in more compact and powerful computer systems" which generates more heat and requires the use of many more outlets, increasing the number of potential ignition sources [Fixen, Edward L. and Vidar S. Landa,"Avoiding the Smell of Burning Data," "Consulting-Specifying Engineer", May 2006, Vol. 39 Issue 5, p47-51] . From as early as the 1950s the potential dangers of computer equipment, and the facilities that house them, was recognized. Thus in 1962 the National Fire Protection Association began developing the first safety standards specifically applicable to electronic computer systems [Fixen, Edward L. and Vidar S. Landa,"Avoiding the Smell of Burning Data," "Consulting-Specifying Engineer", May 2006, Vol. 39 Issue 5, p47-51] . This standard is called NFPA 75 Protection of Information Technology Equipment. FM Global Data Sheet 5-32 is another standard providing guidelines to protect against not only fire, but water, power loss, etc. [Fixen, Edward L. and Vidar S. Landa,"Avoiding the Smell of Burning Data," "Consulting-Specifying Engineer", May 2006, Vol. 39 Issue 5, p47-51] .
List of library fires
Library of Alexandria( Alexandria) - 48 BC, 3rd century, 391, 642 (all disputed)
Cotton Library( Huntingdon, EnglandUK) - 23 October 1731
Library of Congress(Washington, D.C. USA) - 25 August 1814
Brimingham Central Library( Birmingham, England) - 1879
University of VirginiaLibrary (Charlottesville, Virginia USA) - 27 October 1895
New York State Library(Albany, New York USA) - 29 March 1911
British Library( London, EnglandUK) - World War II
JTS library fire( New York City) - April 18, 1966
Los Angeles Central Library(Los Angeles, California USA) - 29 Apriland 3 September 1986
*Academy of Sciences Library (
Leningrad, USSR) - 14 April 1988
Norwich Central Library( Norwich, EnglandUK) - 1 August 1994
Iraq National Library( Baghdad, Iraq) - 15 April 2003
Duchess Anna Amalia Library( Weimar, Germany) - 2 September 2004
* [http://www.cronaca.com/archives/002486.html Iraq national library fire]
Destruction of Libraries
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